After laying a smack down on the Ole Miss Rebels in Oxford Saturday night, the Alabama Crimson Tide (15-12, 7-7 SEC, NET: 40, Kenpom: 46) set their sights a bit further to the south, as the Tide attempts to finish out its week in Mississippi with a crucial sweep of the Mississippi State Bulldogs (17-10, 8-6 SEC, NET: 57, Kenpom: 53). This is a massive game for both teams, especially after each fell victim to Buzz Williams and Texas A&M’s slog pace and suddenly-hot shooting last week. Alabama and Mississippi State are both squarely on the bubble for the NCAA Tournament, and it seems highly unlikely that both, if either, end up dancing in March.
This is a particularly important game for Alabama though, as it represents the last guaranteed game against a Q1 opponent. In my A&M preview last week, I indicated that Alabama’s resume was weak in two areas: overall winning percentage and Q1 wins. Only four teams in the history of the NCAA Tournament have made the field with only three more wins than losses (1988 LSU, 1990 Kansas State, 1991 Villanova, and 2001 Georgia), the last of which was nearly 20 years ago. And the selection committee has shown time and again that they favor teams that have shown they can beat quality opponents.
So, this is a huge game for the Tide tonight. If the team has any dreams of making the Big Dance, this is essentially a must-win. Alabama could survive a loss to South Carolina or Missouri, but the Tide need to grab a third quality win. and they certainly can’t afford another Q3 loss in the form of a home match-up with Vanderbilt next week.
From Last Time
Three Keys to Victory
Hanging Tough on the Boards. Both teams Alabama plays this week will have a massive size advantage in the post. It is imperative that the Tide hit the glass hard this week. I certainly don’t expect Alabama to win the rebounding battle, but they’ve got to be able to hold their own if they want to win this game. Perry and Woodard are both excellent rebounders, and Ado’s 6’11 frame is a significant boost to his ability as well.
Limit Perry’s Touches. Javian Davis, Galin Smith, and Herbert Jones are going to be hugely important in this game. Alabama cannot afford for them to have foul trouble Wednesday night. That was one of the main reasons the Tide blew the game against Florida this weekend, as Kerry Blackshear ate Alabama alive on the inside because of it (well, that, and his amazing ability to not draw a fifth foul himself). ‘Bama can’t afford to let Perry get the ball in the low paint. Expect the Tide’s big men to be working to deny entry passes, and quick double teams when they fail to do so.
The Three-Point Line. Alabama’s pleasantly surprising best friend. The 46th best three-point shooting team in college basketball at 37.0%, the Crimson Tide’s best stretches this season have come when they get good looks in rhythm offensively, mostly by way of the Tide’s fast pace. State shoots 34.5% from beyond the arc themselves, so the perimeter is going to play a big part in this game.
Check out this link to read the full Breakdown for the last meeting
Let’s call it what it was: Alabama kicked Mississippi State’s butt in Tuscaloosa. The Tide, despite going up against a stout group of bigs, won the rebounding battle 39-34. The Bulldogs were slow in their rotations on the defensive end, which allowed Alabama to shoot 10/24 from deep and 49.1% overall. On offense, Mississippi State was basically a three-man show between Nick Weatherspoon, Reggie Perry, and Robert Woodard, none of which were knocking down many jump-shots.
The Tide made State work hard on offense, beat them at the point of attack, and finished them off with a hay maker of a three-point barrage. If that sounds familiar, it’s because it is exactly what Alabama did to Ole Miss the other night as well. Clearly, Oats will try to follow this formula again in Starkville tonight.
The overarching question tonight is this: can Alabama execute like that again? Despite the size and experience, Mississippi State is surprisingly bad on defense (131st in Defensive Efficiency). Their guards don’t defend well on-ball, and the rotations on defense are abysmal. A&M ate their lunch making the extra pass to the open man the other day, much like Alabama did both in the first meeting with State and in its most recent outing on Saturday. The Bulldogs are unlikely to shoot nearly as poorly as they did in Tuscaloosa, when they went 4/16 from deep and 37.7% overall (usually-steady shooters, Tyson Carter and D.J. Stewart, both had terrible games), so expect the over to hit tonight.
The number one key to Alabama’s success this season has been taking care of the basketball. When the Tide limits its turnovers and minimizes the points scored off of those turnovers, Alabama is very difficult to beat. Unfortunately, due to a fast pace and a lack of ball-handlers, the Tide all too often kills itself with sloppy play and ugly turnovers that kill possessions and lead to easy transition baskets the other way. Again, Mississippi State has not been very tight on defense this season, so hopefully, Alabama will have a strong performance in this regard.
As far as stakes are concerned, they don’t get much bigger (or more apt, more desperate) than tonight. Alabama and Mississippi State are both currently on the outside looking-in at the projected field for the NCAA Tournament. Both teams need this win badly; but, Alabama probably needs it more. Hopefully the guys understand that and come out ready to play from the jump tonight. The Tide has embarrassed this team once already, but playing on the road at “The Hump” is never an easy venture for Alabama, despite the short distance between the two cities.
It’s essentially win or go home (to host NIT games) time for both of these squads. Can Alabama build off of their performance this past Saturday and sweep the Bulldogs for a critical Q1 victory?
The game will tip-off at 8:00 PM CST and will be televised on the SEC Network.